DICE, it's easy to forget in all the kerfuffle that's surrounded the developer in recent months following the Star Wars Battlefront 2 debacle, can still craft a damn fine shooter. When the parts align - when you're sprinting between falling masonry on Battlefield 1's depiction of the western front, as a Sopwith Camel buzzes overhead and a Saint Chamond tank churns over the hills on the far horizon - it's still capable of making some of the most dramatic and spectacular shooters around.
Play through any of the maps introduced in Battlefield 1's Apocalypse update - which marks the final expansion for DICE's period shooter, some 17 months after the base game's release - and you're never more than a few seconds away from such moments. This is an update that doubles down on the popular iconography of World War 1, on the hellish thunder of No Man's Land and of seeing idyllic countryside turned over for mud, blood and mortar fire as DICE leans on such familiar backdrops as the Somme and Passchendaele.
It's mightily effective stuff, and for me - someone who prefers nothing more than a straightforward game of Conquest - the Apocalypse expansion gets straight to the heart of what makes Battlefield special. Even more than that, it delivers on the fantasy of its own chosen arena just as well as the series has since Bad Company 2's brilliant Vietnam expansion. When you're running through the trenches of Passchendaele, or bringing down the windmill on the outskirts of the Somme map and wiping out an entire squad, it really is that good.
A pretty satisfying end to Battlefield 1's lifecycle, then, and a full-stop on what can be marked up as one of DICE's more successful outings. It's certainly one of their least disastrous, anyway - Battlefront 2's lootbox saga, let's not forget, wasn't the first time DICE has found itself the subject of fan's ire. Battlefield 3 was hobbled by its ill-advised insistence on aping Call of Duty's formula in one too many places, while Battlefield 4 hardly made it out of the starting blocks before falling flat on its face.
There's been none of that calamity surrounding Battlefield 1, with a strong foundation being diligently built upon over time, yet strangely it's not a game that invites the same sort of affection as many of its predecessors. A lot of that, admittedly, is down to a matter of individual preference, and in my own personal rankings this isn't up there with the fully-patched up Battlefield 4, Bad Company 2 and its aforementioned Vietnam expansion or the out there brilliance of 2142. The period machinery of Battlefield 1 remains an acquired taste, and for all the scale of the maps the skirmishes are certainly limited in scope by the comparative lack of vehicles. Which is just another way of saying I really, really miss helicopters.
That's what you get when sticking steadfastly to a certain period, for sure, but what's really held Battlefield 1 back from being an all-time great are the myriad legacy problems, the little disappointments that gnaw away over time. The progression system remains totally limp, marred by the inclusion of lootboxes that only ever offer unremarkable spoils, while the partitioning of the player base remains a problem. There are the have-nots, but even those who've ponied up for a season pass can feel restricted; trying to find a match on one of the older expansion maps often proves impossible, even under 18 months from launch, and it's an antiquated system whose days are surely numbered.
The thing is, DICE knows that, and its first crack at a solution fell disastrously flat. Star Wars Battlefront 2 launched without a season pass, but what it offered in its place was so disastrously dumb you wonder how they ever thought they could get away with it. The lootbox scandal that engulfed the game on launch doesn't really need discussing any further - and, to give DICE and EA some credit, it was effectively shutdown on launch as well - but it's symptomatic of a team that can seem short on imagination when it comes to certain areas of development.
How exactly Star Wars Battlefront 2 deals with that remains to be seen, though the answer is not too far away given it's due in an imminent update. I can't help but suspect it'll be a slightly botched job, given some of the problems players had with progression seem endemic within Star Wars Battlefront 2's design, with its star cards and their associated perks, though I'd be delighted to be proven wrong. What's really going to be fascinating, though, is to see what DICE's solution will be with this year's Battlefield.
It'd be a tone deaf move to have lootboxes at the core, just as it seems unwise to bring a season pass back having made at least one step in the right direction by abolishing the concept with Battlefront 2's free maps. The thing is, plenty of other games - from Splatoon to Overwatch - can get it at least half right, so there's no excuse for DICE to stumble all over again.
Battlefield 1's Apocalypse, then, feels like the end of a certain era, and for all the stumbles there've been since the series started gunning for Call of Duty, it's great to see it go out with a proper thundering bang. In these new maps, there's everything that makes the series so thrilling - the real thrill, though, is going to be seeing how DICE can adapt it to this new landscape later this year.
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